With Growth Comes Complexity: What I’ve learned since closing our Series B fundraising
27 February 2017
By Darrell Heaps
Back in May of last year, we closed our series B fundraising. It was a big step for the growth of Q4 in that it brought a group of seasoned investors into the company and allowed us to scale aspects of the business that we knew were critical to our success.
While our growth has been exciting in many ways, it has also brought more complexity and challenges to the business. We now have more than 1,000 clients globally and more than 200 employees working out of offices in Toronto, New York, Chicago, London, Copenhagen, Romania, India, and Lithuania, not to mention the numerous people working from home offices across the U.S. and Canada. We’re operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So we have certainly grown, but it’s still very early days for us.
The pace of how fast we work is mind boggling to me. I used to take a vacation and come back to the business, feeling it had slowed down and I needed to push. Today I take time off and come back to a bullet train, and I have to work at getting back up to speed with it. Our focus is how to move faster, each and every day.
People sometimes ask if the business is getting easier to manage, because it’s now bigger and I have more people to delegate to. The answer is simply, no, it doesn’t get any easier. With high growth comes increased complexity.
“It doesn’t get easier, we just lift more.”
This is a CrossFit saying that I love. No matter how strong you get, there is always another level: you can always try to lift more. This is our mentality and culture at Q4. No matter how good you are, there is always another level to push for.
One of the things that keeps me up at night is that each day we grow we risk becoming bigger, dumber, and slower. So I try to spend every day focused on how we can instead grow to become bigger, smarter, faster.
Here’s how I see us rising to meet these challenges at Q4.
95% of execution is having the right people.
High performers create value and drive business like nothing else. More important than any strategy or process is the ability of one rock star to change the company and, in many cases, the market.
The challenge with growth is that even the best laid plans are always changing. Whether these are triggered by external market forces, competitors, or something you’ve never anticipated, your plans are going into the bin sooner rather than later — and you’re going to have to adapt to thrive. Rock stars are people who rise to the occasion, find new opportunities, and execute without being told. It’s just in their DNA to get shit done.
I spend a huge amount of my time focused on people. Finding, developing, pushing, and pulling. People are the most critical part of what’s needed to grow, and you need to make it a constant priority.
The other 5% is alignment.
Speaking of rock stars: what if you have two rock star leaders in the company, and they are pushing in two different directions? Misalignment like this can create a cultural rift — and it can take a lot of time to repair. I work tirelessly to keep all of our leaders in the company within a tight cadence, focused on strategic alignment. This isn’t easy and needs constant attention.
Misalignment is one of those things that if you aren’t really looking for it you may think everything is great, until the misalignment is so severe that things start breaking. Alignment is fluid and never stands still. It’s either getting better or it’s getting worse: there is no resting point for alignment across a team or across the company — and the bigger the company gets, the more you have to work to maintain it.
The only failure in losing is if you don’t learn from it and get stronger.
No matter how much we grow or how much success we have, we lose all the time. We lose when competing for new clients, when recruiting for talent, when trying to hit deadlines or targets. Losing is a part of competition, and we compete as much with others in the market as we do with ourselves.
When we lose, we analyze why and then work on immediate and longer term solutions to get stronger, faster, and better. We have done this across the company since its inception, whether we lost a deal because our product is missing a certain feature, or lost a client because of something we did or didn’t do in servicing them. Identifying the root cause of losing, quickly, is the key.
As the company grows, the odds of losing increase as we simply do more business; we have a large number of deals in play at any one time and simply won’t win them all. So scaling a winning culture, combined with a focus on learning when we lose takes consistent effort.
I’m an optimist — I always have been. I believe that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to — if you’re willing to work for it. As Q4 has grown I’ve learned really how important these aspects of culture, people and alignment are. I look forward to continuing to learn and improve both personally and as a company.
Darrell Heaps is the founder and CEO of Q4. Follow him on Twitter @darrellheaps.